Aberdeen band ESTRELLA, right from the early days, always stood out from the rest of Scottish unsigned rock bands, in that they always gave the appearance and, to a degree, the sound, of a band who wanted to pursue a more AOR path rather than out and out metal.
The 2006 self-titled debut EP showed that they had the capability and potential but you wanted more. Then the band ‘disappeared’ for a long time but now they’re back.
Not only back, but on fire and ‘ready to take on the world’, as their 14 track debut album “Come Out To Play” proclaims.
Formed by brothers Paul (vocals), Luke (guitar) and Nathan (bass) Gunn along with Leo McPherson (drums), “Come Out To Play” was produced by John T Sinclair (ex-keyboard player to Ozzy Osbourne and band member of Uriah Heep and The Cult) with Ashley Howe (Led Zeppelin, Queen) roped in as sound engineer.
Things kick off in high gear with “Chance Of A Lifetime”, which starts with a clipped riffing like a hard rockin’ intro to ‘Jailhouse Rock’ before the singer tears into view over this flowing river of huge guitar riffs, crunchy drumming, powerful bass and its headlong through searing heat verses and equally hot guitar breaks, into multi-harmony choruses that lift you up and fly you away to dramatic effect.
Next we have title track “Come Out To Play”. It’s pure late seventies Aerosmith and just sensational, a bluesy swagger with a heady rockin’ chorus and vintage keyboards.
On “Party” they manage to cross Van Halen circa 1986 and Aerosmith in the first 30 seconds as the synth intro gives way to scything guitars, over crashing rhythms and Tyler-esque vocals. The guitar break is hot and the song fun and catchy.
Up next is “Mona Lisa Smile” and here we head off into a more early Bon Jovi territory, as what amounts to a hair metal love song sends shivers up your spine with a ringing, twanging guitar riff, absolutely solid rhythm section work and impassioned vocals that deliver verses with an almost orchestra restraint, verses that set the foundations for the band to lift off like a rocket into the huge, towering anthem of a chorus that’s just awesome in its effect, exercising dynamics of songwriting that many a more famous rock band would do well to take notice, on a song that can truly be described as classic.
“Shout (I Wanna Hear You)” begins with swirling synths and orchestral backdrops that hit like daggers to the heart before the rhythm section drives home, stuttering bass pounds and shuddering guitar riffs come into play.
“Do It Til We Drop” has a ferocious bite and melting riffing, every bit the epitome of seventies, eighties and nineties Classic Hard Rock wrapped up into one rolling thunder of a track, with Joe Elliott’s styled vocals providing a rock solid performance of another slice of molten rock intensity and one of the finest tracks on an already stunning album.
After this, “One Love” kicks us right into a world of classic American hard rock with a sizzling dual guitar intro as the rhythm section kicks in, the lead vocals take their gravelly stance upfront into a high-flying chorus worthy of the best Danger Danger or Night Ranger, and there’s a huge sense of passion running through its delivery, with one of those anthemic choruses that epitomises the finest that ’80s AOR had to offer.
“Rocker Lily” is a juddering slice of lurching time signatures which has fierce guitar riffs and verses that scream into huge hooks as the tale of ‘dirty Lily’ unfolds in all its sleazy glory, with massive guitars and a wide sound production.
“She’s Got It” is like a pure Night Ranger tune, the hard rockin’ ones of their first album with thick, beefy, meaty guitar riffs and leads, dynamics of arrangement and pounding rhythm section. A roaring slice of mighty melodious hard rock from an undeniable eighties stable.
“Last Mohican” offers a welcomed variation. The track begins on a stuttering cascade of bass before this mighty guitar riff, worthy of something out of Blue Murder or HSAS, bursts into view only to subside almost as suddenly as the singer kind of glides in rather than roars, providing more of an AOR power ballad approach with restraint as the drums crunch deliberate, the bass slides up the scale and this twisting, sinuous song weaves its spell. Gradually, the vocals intensify, the guitar riffs move upfront and it all starts to build as the song starts its climb to even greater heights, but never truly breaks out, to great dynamic effect, the presence of a killer guitar duel adding to the jaw-dropping tower of a track, a veritable anthem in a field of the things.
“Whatever It Is” has ‘anthem’ written all over it, with a huge harmonious chorus that’s really magical as the verses keep things simple and a spirited guitar break burns holes in your soul, the presence of rippling piano set to the high-flying guitar and the general air of heady restraint mixed with highly charged vocals full of emotion, gives us something that a modern Def Leppard could only hope to achieve.
“I’d Give It All” has got a Heart styled arrangement to it and is the sort of anthemic hard rock track that you’d have been hard pushed to better on either one of the Wilson sisters two classic eighties albums, only here given the ‘hair metal’ treatment with massive choruses, mighty verses, powerful singing, textures of ’80s synths and thick swathes of guitars.
The album ends with “Don’t Forget Me”, musically a very good rocking ballad but I don’t like the vocals here at all, too much screamy for my tastes. A pity, as this Aerosmith-like tune has a very cool rising intensity infused with a Def Leppard sensibility to make it an anthem that spans two decades of Classic Rock but sounds completely contemporary at the same time.
Estrella and their debut “Come Out To Play” is one of those albums that puts a big smile on your face.
It’s a truly celebration of the classic sounds from the commercial late ’70s / ’80s Melodic Hard Rock, of course, with an updated sound.
As a team of brothers, the band are – I have no doubt – very proud of this release and so they should be. Paul Gunn provides for the most part a great vocal with a gritty performance on top of the solid, well crafted musical backdrop where the killer melodic hot guitars of Luke are all over the place. Keyboards are prominent mixing vintage instruments and synths sounds, and the rhythm section is tight and really hard hitting in some places.
Production values are good and this shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider that John T. Sinclair brought-in sound engineer Ashley Howe to assist.
There’s many things to be polished by Estrella, but I’m sure these guys will go from strength to strength, and the Melodic Hard Rock community should celebrate this loveable disc.
01 – Chance Of A Lifetime
02 – Come Out To Play
03 – Party
04 – Mona Lisa Smile
05 – Shout (I Wanna Hear You)
06 – Do It ‘Til We Drop
07 – One Love
08 – Rocker Lily
09 – She’s Got It
10 – Last Mohican
11 – Whatever It Is
12 – What You See
13 – I’d Give It All
14 – Don’t Forget Me
Paul Gunn – Lead Vocals
Luke Gunn – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nathan T Gunn – Bass, Backing Vocals
Leo J McPherson – Drums
John T Sinclair – Keyboards, Synths
ESTRELLA – Come Out To Play (2012)
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